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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

June/July 2014


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes.




This month: A daily exercise routine and advice of sleep positions, to relieve morning stiffness.


Q: Although I feel like getting up and out in the mornings to enjoy the favorable summer weather, it takes about four hours to feel mobile and able to go out for a walk. Please would you advise on which exercises to do in the mornings to get going?

A: Morning stiffness in the joints is a very common symptom, associated with the aging process.

This is caused by a chronic low level of inflammation which accompanies the deterioration or cartilage which lines the joints. It involves progressive deterioration of tissues and the body’s natural response to heal the area by stimulating an inflammatory response. Also, it is associated with the imbalance of the muscles which have attachments via their tendons to the surface of bone or ligamentous tissue, adjacent to the joint margins.

Chronic muscle imbalance may cause friction where a tendon of one muscle is obstructed by another tendon or a bony prominence. This is common in the joints of the neck, shoulders and hips and a creaking sound or click may be heard during certain movements.

To avoid muscle imbalance, it is important to sleep in a position which avoids unnecessary stress on the joints. So, ensure that your pillow height allows your neck to remain in line with your upper back (thoracic spine) while you are sleeping. Also, particularly with low back stiffness, sleeping on your side, with a pillow or folded towel between your waist and the mattress can help to maintain the alignment of the lumbar area.

With knee, hip and low back stiffness, sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees avoids rotation through these joints overnight, thereby helping to maintain their muscle balance. However, if you are unable to sleep on your side or prefer lying on your back, try sleeping with a pillow beneath the thighs.

Morning stiffness may be caused by postural issues during the daytime, which cause muscle imbalances around our joints and result in an overnight inflammatory reaction. So, it is important to maintain good posture by day, avoiding slouching when sitting and not allowing your head to flex forwards for long periods, at the computer, reading the newspaper or maybe taking a nap on the sofa!

Some exercises can help us to train our deep postural muscles, but you have to remain aware of posture in order for exercises to be helpful. This is a great challenge, particularly when working at the computer or watching TV, when our attention is deeply absorbed in other matters!

The following exercises routine should be performed every morning on waking. Keep your abdominal muscles scooped in, navel towards the spine and press your shoulders down towards your waist.

Performing these standing exercises will help to invigorate your blood circulation and enhance your overall mobility and vitality:

Neck Rolls
In a semi-circular movement, take the left ear towards the left shoulder, then lower your chin towards your chest and finally, move the right ear towards the right shoulder. Reverse the direction of the semi-circle from right to left and repeat 5 times.

Shoulder Circles
Pull up your shoulders towards your ears, then pull them back and press them down towards the back of your waist. Then, pull them forwards again and repeat 10 times. Try to keep your head and neck still, while just moving your shoulders.

Pectoral Stretch
Stand about one foot away from a wall, with the right side of the body towards it. Place the palm of your right hand onto the wall behind the body. Turn the body and your neck to the left to feel the stretch at the front of the right shoulder and chest and along the arm. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds before, repeating it on the left side.

Side Reach
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands behind the head. Reach the left elbow up towards the ceiling, stretching between the waist and the shoulder. Then, reach up the right elbow towards the ceiling. Repeat 10 times.

These stretches, will help to limber up the hips and leg muscles:

Sitting Buttock Stretch:
Sit with the right ankle hooked over your left knee and move your upper body forwards to feel a stretch around the right buttock and hip area. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, and repeat it with the left ankle hooked over the right knee.

Hip and Front of Thigh Stretch
Kneel down at the side of your bed with your right knee on a pillow and the left foot flat on the floor in front. Keep your body upright, and take your weight forwards towards the left knee to feel the stretch at the front of the right hip. Hold the position for 20 seconds, using the side of the bed for support. Repeat the stretch for the left hip.

After completing the above set of exercises, perform the following list for strengthening benefits and postural awareness.

Spine Twist
Sit up straight in a chair and pull in your abdominal muscles tightly. Connect the pelvic floor by maintaining tension around your buttocks and beneath your sit bones. Keep your hands clasped together. Exhale while you twist your body to the right, without moving your pelvis. Hold the position and breathe in, while pressing the shoulders blades down towards the back or your waist. Then, repeat the exercise turning your body to the left. If your back is not too stiff after 10 repetitions, try adding a pulse at the end of the rotation, before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 times.

Sitting Spine Stretch Forward
Sit on the floor or the bed with your legs stretched out, in line with your hip joints. Keep your feet flexed and the knees pressed down. Hold your arms parallel to your legs while rolling the body forwards. Exhale to roll forwards, keeping your abdominal muscles pulled in and your shoulders pressed down towards your waist. Inhale to hold the position and exhale as your roll up to sitting straight. Repeat the exercise 10-15 times.


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for Gina John to answer in next month’s column to:

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